This letter was written by Rev. Isaac Grier (1776-1843), an early-day minister and missionary in the Associate Reformed Church. He graduated from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) in 1800 and received his licence to preach in Abbeville District, South Carolina. He was pastor for nearly forty years at Sardis, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina from 1804 until 1842. In 1822, Rev. Grier spent three months as a missionary visiting settlements in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Rev. Grier wrote the letter to William Ramsey Hemphill (1806-1876), the son of Rev. John Hemphill of the Associate Reformed Church. William first pursued a career in the mercantile business with his brother in Providence, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. In 1831, he entered Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1833. After graduation, he entered the Seminary at Allegheny which was under the presidency of Dr. John Taylor Pressly (mentioned in this letter). The Presbytery in Pittsburgh refused to license Hemphill, however because he was suspected of being “somewhat heterodox” on the subject of slavery, so he returned South and was licensed there in June 1836. He spent several years in South Carolina, relocated to Kentucky, then returned to his home in Due West, Abbeville, South Carolina.
Grier candidly confides to his friend’s son that he feels time spent in theological school may be wasted while “churches are going to desolation and heresy [is] springing up everywhere.” He also shares his opinion that ministers of the gospel should not overly preoccupy themselves with any particular cause such as temperance, believing that it may cause more harm than good in saving souls.
Addressed to Mr. William Hemphill, Student of Theology, Pittsburgh [PA]
Postmarked at Hemphill’s Store [Mecklenburg County, North Carolina]
December 25, 1833
I find myself under obligation to write you a letter for two reasons. First, we have long been friends, and secondly, you wrote to me since I have written to you. But under these considerations I cannot promise you much entertainment even when I write but I will tell you something. I will speak a little of the church or matters ecclesiastical.
This season our synod met in Lincoln County, Tennessee. As such, I had a long and fatiguing ride to get there. Many things occurred in this journey more than I can remember — much less relate — but nothing commanded my attention more than the noise about religion. The scismaticks or Locinians, the Cambellites — or those that hold baptism by immersion to be regeneration, Cumberland Presbyterians or Methodists — all busy prosylate making is the order of the day. Anything but the ____ is believed and that approve Camp Meeting are good, of course. One of those men of the cloth — a Baptist that made many converts — has got two women with child in the course of the season. Some are beginning to think the man is not altogether in the path of duty; others think he will amend his ways. Such things, however, are not creditable to morals, much less religion. But I suppose the ____ Tennesseans could not say as the Clergymen ploughing, they had never sees the like before. The public mind, however, in that region is perfectly unhinged in religion and for ought I know it may be preparing to render something better. The veriest idolators have been persuaded to believe the truth — the Associate Reformed Church in Tennessee is a little on the advance [and] with care would increase.
My young friend, it is a great loss that our ministry are so few. I fear many are concerned about nice grammatical construction, who can most classically construe Greek or Hebrew than the salvation of sinners. What is the use of detaining young men four years and four months only in the year while churches are going to desolation and heresy springing up everywhere. Now supposing that in every four years Mr. Pressly should send forth 20 young men in 16 years, we would have 80. What a poor supply for North America. Must a man know everything before he leaves Pittsburgh? Surely not. What is he to be employed in in after life? My friend, these things are not spoken in contempt of your seminary, but present circumstances demand other regulations. No way better than make young men linguists and let them study the Bible for themselves, aided by a few standard authors, and we will no doubt be learning while we live.
But my friend, my present [is[ not to give lectures, but to write you a familiar letter. You inform me the Temperance Society business occupied the Western Synod three days. I think some subject of more importance might have been the subject of discussion. But everything in its own place. The subject is some places in the South has become contemptible. The members have to buy large quantities of whiskey and brandy to make vinegar; even a Reverend gentleman had to stand before his betters for making too much vinegar. The Presbytery thought he was too lavish in the use of that article and it was found the people around had commenced the business of making vinegar. What the admonition was which administered is not certainly known, but it has been thought it was that he should no more preach on the subject of Temperance; for since that time he has preached no more on the case. Ministers would do well to teach all things whatever the Savior has commanded, and then stop. Further is rarely any advantage.
My friend, want of time has led me to give you a short letter, yet some parts may probably contain an item of intelligence. I conclude by promising a more lengthy letter in a little while. Yours with respect, — Isaac Grier